Li Qiang

2 minute read
By Charlie Campbell

Do not utter Li Qiang’s name in the city where it was made. In Shanghai, where Li served as Chinese Communist Party secretary from 2017 until 2022, brutal COVID-19 lockdown measures left millions traumatized, shredding his hard-earned reputation as progressive and pro-business. One man was impressed, however: President Xi Jinping, who last March rewarded Li’s unswerving loyalty by promoting him to Premier and China’s second-in-command.

While Xi has consolidated more executive power than any other Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, the gritty task of policy implementation now falls to Li—the COO to Xi’s formidable CEO. Born in rural Zhejiang province in 1959, Li spent his youth working in an irrigation-pump station and a tool factory. Today, his job is fixing China’s $17.52 trillion economy within the strict ideological balustrades set by Xi.

It’s quite the inbox: China is battling deflation, record youth unemployment, plummeting investment, local-government debt equivalent to 76% of GDP, a festering real estate crisis, and a stock market that has lost $5 trillion in value. Fixing this will require tough choices—something Shanghai knows Li won’t shy away from. “The Chinese people,” he said in March, “have the courage, wisdom, to overcome any difficulties or obstacles.”

Campbell is a TIME correspondent

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